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Video | I Bought the Most Unreliable BMW Ever Made

Unfortunately, I didn’t heed the advice of Doug DeMuro last week, who said the E60 chassis BMW M5 was the best BMW you should never own. I actually bought mine about a month ago, but didn’t tell anyone — partially out of shame, and also because I wanted to finish some other projects first before unveiling a new one. Still, at only $6,500, it was the cheapest running and driving M5 in the U.S. — cheap enough that I thought it was possible to fix all the issues and still be ahead financially. Boy, was I wrong!

Given my bad history with BMWs, I certainly wasn’t seeking this car out. A dealer friend of mine called me after getting word that a 2007 M5 with 100,000 miles was just traded in at the local Honda dealer, which was a major red flag. If someone is trading in their aging 500-horsepower super sedan on an Accord or a CRV, there’s probably a good reason why they are rushing into the arms of Japanese reliability. Still, my friend didn’t think the car was that bad, but the transmission wasn’t shifting properly and the check engine light was on. Even with the tons of unknowns, I couldn’t say no at only $6,500.

The car does present itself very well in person, but the drive from the Honda dealer back to my storage building didn’t inspire much confidence. The SMG transmission felt like it was being controlled by a teenager learning to drive a manual, with the car shaking violently after what felt like a clutch dump with every shift. The check engine light was on, of course, and I also noticed a small dribble of oil accumulate on the ground after my 5-mile trek. How the mighty have fallen!

This oil leak became much worse on the second drive about a month later, which was a nerve-racking 30 miles to the shop of my mechanic, the Car Wizard. My goal was to fix everything on this car for less than the total purchase price — making my total invested into the M5 at $13,000 or less. At that amount, I might actually make a few bucks when it comes time to sell — unlike my previous BMW projects — but it didn’t take long before my hopes were dashed.

In typical old BMW fashion, the diagnostic computer read about 30 trouble codes, but thankfully, nothing serious when it comes to the engine. I still wanted to preemptively replace the rod bearings and Vanos pump, as these two items are known to grenade the engine with zero notice — but that was going to eat into the majority of my repair budget, and there was still the oil leak and transmission issue to address.

By the time I had arrived at the Wizard’s shop, oil had sprayed everywhere, even somehow coating the driver’s side front wheel. Enough oil had escaped that I finally got a warning on the dashboard for low oil level, but the good thing about a leak this massive is the ease of finding the culprit. Turns out the oil cooler had cracked, perhaps from some kind of impact, and was making a huge mess. Mercifully, this was an easy fix — unlike the transmission. Codes for the transmission pointed towards a slave cylinder failure, but inspection of other damage would require the removal of the transmission.

With all of these issues added up, it didn’t take the Wizard long to blow way past my budget. He ballparked the repairs at $8,000 to $11,000, depending on the condition of the transmission, which means this M5, which was $90,000 new just a decade ago, was now mechanically totalled. The majority of that estimate, $5,000, was just preventative work replacing the rod bearings and Vanos pump, but the transmission is the real mystery.

I’ve decided to start with fixing the transmission and the oil cooler — the most pressing and obvious needs — before doing anything else. But to skip the rod bearings and Vanos pump would be like driving around a ticking bomb. I guess that’s nothing new for me.

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